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Thomas v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 2, 2017



          John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Steven Thomas's motion to vacate his judgment and sentence filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Dkt. No. 1). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In April 2016, a jury convicted Petitioner of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, money laundering, conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm. (CR14-0096-JCC (CR), Dkt. No. 168.) Petitioner presented an entrapment defense and testified during his criminal trial. (See generally CR Dkt. Nos. 259-265.) He now brings this timely § 2255 habeas petition. (Dkt. No. 1.)[1]

         Petitioner's motion raises two broad claims: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel and (2) the government presented false evidence at trial and committed Naupe[2] violations. (See generally Dkt. No. 1.) Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel ground has four separate arguments: (1) his attorneys did not effectively present his entrapment defense, (Dkt. No. 1 at 1- 46); (2) his attorneys failed to file a motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct, (id. at 57-64); (3) his attorneys failed to propose certain jury instructions, (id. at 64-65); and (4) his attorneys failed to present certain arguments at his sentencing, (id. at 65-72). Petitioner also requests an evidentiary hearing to “determine issues of fact in regard to the constitutional challenges.” (Id. at 72.)


         A. Evidentiary Hearing

         An evidentiary hearing is not required where “the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). Petitioner requests an evidentiary hearing only to present the evidence admitted at trial and attached to his § 2255 petition again. (See Dkt. No. 1 at 72-73.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the motion, files, and records of the case conclusively show that Petitioner is not entitled to relief. Therefore, his request for an evidentiary hearing is DENIED.

         B. Section 2255 Habeas Petition

         1. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

          To prevail on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, Petitioner must show both that (1) his “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and (2) the deficiency “in counsel's performance [was] prejudicial to the defense.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). The first element requires that Petitioner prove “in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions [of his counsel] were outside the wide range of professional competent assistance.” Id. at 690. There is a “strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance” and “strategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable.” Id. at 689, 690. To demonstrate prejudice, “[i]t is not enough for the defendant to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id. at 693. Petitioner “must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.

         a. Entrapment Defense[3]

         The crux of Petitioner's first ineffective assistance of counsel argument is that although his attorneys “designated close to 200 recorded clips to be used during the trial, ” his attorney “only introduced 7.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 5) Petitioner states that designating that many exhibits means “obviously [his attorneys] did not believe the evidence to be cumulative.” (Dkt. No. 31 at 15.) Petitioner essentially argues that although his attorneys presented evidence to try to prove Petitioner was entrapped, his attorneys erred because they did not present every single piece of evidence available. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 1 at 10-11 (arguing that his attorneys erred by not presenting additional details about which Mexican drug cartel worked with Petitioner); id. at 11- 13 (arguing that his attorneys erred by not calling additional witnesses to testify whether or not they had seen Petitioner sell drugs).)

         Upon review of the record, the Court concludes that all of the evidence Petitioner argues should have been introduced was cumulative. Defense counsel's choice not to introduce the additional evidence Petitioner points to was not an objectively unreasonable strategy because attorneys do not have a duty to introduce cumulative evidence. See Babbitt v. Calderon, 151 F.3d 1170, 1174 (9th Cir. 1998). For example, Petitioner argues that his attorneys erred by not introducing additional evidence to prove that the Government's offer of large monetary awards entrapped Thomas into laundering money. (See Dkt. No. 1 at 36-40.) However, Thomas himself testified that he wanted “legitimate investments” but did not “really care where the money came from, ” (CR Dkt. No. 263 at 138), and additional evidence would have been cumulative. Moreover, as the Ninth Circuit reasoned on the direct appeal, “large monetary rewards . . . are the prototypical criminal motivation for drug dealing and money laundering and do not provide ...

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